The Rise Of A New Fundraising Professional

On a sunny summer day, Joe, a 12 year old ice cream fan, ran down the street to chase the ever-elusive community ice cream truck. Within feet of the truck he tripped over his own laces and fell face-first on the ground. Joe’s fall was followed by a metallic rain shower…Joe’s ice cream allowance!

In a panic he scanned the area on a search & rescue mission for the lost coins. But alas, his search was unsuccessful…Joe looked up just in time to see the last of his change make a dreadful deposit into a storm drain.

But wait, to his surprise Joe discovered an abandoned five dollar bill next to the curb; a treasure much greater than his original sum. Being a Good Samaritan Joe asked his friends if they happened to lose money on their route to the ice cream truck. With no one to claim the funds, Joe walked away without any ice cream [as his search, discovery, and later interviews surpassed the ice cream man’s patience] but with a new found wealth.

This fictional story is similar to the career path of many current fundraising professionals in the nonprofit sector. Like Joe, these professionals had their sights on specific career paths but, after a few stumbles along their original trajectory, they found new- yet unexpected- careers in nonprofit development (this is an observation I gathered since I started to follow the industry two years ago).

Tonight, I was scanning the Chronicle of Philanthropy and I came across an article called “How Fundraisers Got Their Start” ,by Cody Switzer. Sure enough, the Philanthropy article confirms the presence of many” Joes” in the industry.

The article includes pictures and short personal bios of members of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (an organization whose membership includes the best of the field). After a few testimonies from fundraisers who had Joe-like stories [ and later enjoyed successful 25 or more years in development] the article concludes with a testimony of a younger professional…who intentionally went to graduate school to become a fundraiser.


Fundraising is important. Some observers go as far as to call money “the life blood of nonprofits” (Bray 2008). It is ironic that such an important aspect of our industry is now lead by professionals who stumbled into these important positions by accident. After all, how would you feel if your dentist mentioned how he “stumbled” into her profession during your next check up? Unlike other sectors, the nonprofit sector is soo diverse in cause, need, and service provision that “Joe” careers can, and do, happen…and prosper! People from diverse backgrounds can find careers in a diverse sector.

But as databases such as The Raisers Edge and other fundraising tools become more advanced we may see less Joes in the industry.

The nonprofit sector is looking at a new generation of fundraising professionals who are entering the profession because it is their field of choice (Switzer 2011). As new professionals (trained by choice in fundraising techniques) enter this profession the nonprofit sector is likely to see a proliferation of technology, social media, and other savvy trends in the not too far off future…and it can be argued that this wave of technology is already upon us.

However, fundraising is multifaceted and does not always bow to the latest trends. If a nonprofit’s donor base, for example, is a population that does not have access to computers or other technology, then some of the above tactics, although savvy, may need to take the back seat to in-person appeals, mailing campaigns or other tactics that meet the donors where they are.

The final moral of the story is two-fold:

1) More professionals are entering development deliberately. This purposeful entry brings a fresh perspective to the field. However, the new professional will be frustrated if they do not observe current successful donor-relation practices.

2) Joe should invest in a wallet, and perhaps Velcro laces, to avoid future tragedies.

Works Cited:

Bray, Ilona.2008. Effective Fundraising For Nonprofits, Real World Strategies That Work. 2nd Edition. NOLO’s Nonprofit Essentials.

Switzer, Cody. 2011. “How Fundraisers Got Their Start”. The Chronicle of Philantrhopy. May 2011. (01/12/2012).


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